Has it ever occurred to you that the issue of public transport in Malta and Gozo is (as everything is on these islands) split right down the middle – on the one side the local resident who refuses to succumb to the rather tawdry, lure of the public transport to offer them a service and on the other the tourist (who really only spends nine days out of 365 here) who is enamoured with the unusual design of some of our local fleet. The facts are: we have a cheap public transport service made up of some 500 licensed buses, some of which are throwbacks to the sixties and seventies, some are recycled stock from London Transport and a number of which have been replaced in the last ten years. We have to admit that service on these vehicles could be improved, appearance and uniforms are nothing fantastic and the timetable is not exactly working like clockwork.
The irony of all this, is that it was not always this way at all – at the beginning of the 20th century we entered the modern era of transportation with a steam locomotive service, an electric tram car and medium sized Char-a-bancs that helped us relieve our legs somewhat. But competition could not survive, we may not have heard of economies of scale or even competitive edges in those day, but the results were still the same ...the train succumbed to the tram and the tram succumbed to the char-a-bancs and, somehow the Karrozini continued to survive, or at least 50 of them did. Coupled to these changes we have a fleet of white taxis and chauffeur driven services that offer a more personal service. The Public Transport service could be a lucrative one, even on a small island state such as Malta and Gozo or, should I say, especially on a small island state such as Malta and Gozo.
“Why?” I hear you say, “Especially so”. We talk about traffic congestion, excessive use of cars, the three or four car family, the danger to cyclists and pedestrians because of reckless driving (although one must not generalize here) and all these rather negative factors that are affecting the island’s attractiveness. The Public Transport Reform that has been initiated by the Government over the last months comes at a time when we need to look at our attractiveness both for visitors as well as for us local residents who live here – in other words it needs to be sustainable and a sustainable and well managed service can reduce the number of private vehicles on the road, it can reduce the need for expensive and excessive road maintenance and it will certainly allow us some time to sit and have a few minutes to ourselves.
At the moment, when I walk through the terminus at City Gate, I often think what Dante’s inferno may have looked like if the great man himself had written it today – walking across oil stained floors avoiding those ancient, smoke belching, remnants from some Jurassic Park for the 20th Century. I look around for somewhere to escape the hot August sun...Alas I am doomed to disappointment here, I look around for some information, a friendly face and a cheery smile..alas, all I see are sulky and miserable souls trapped in a lifetime of mechanistic routine.....but I always believe that even the sulky and the miserable (there are those among them who do offer a great alternative!) have an opportunity to offer the service and hospitality that others deserve, and then we all have the chance to break this mould that has taken years to form and turn a dreary scene into a friendly paradise, if only we all work together.